May 23, 2012 |
Photo Credit: michaeljung via Shutterstock.com
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Driving through Ngong Hills, not far from Nairobi, Kenya, the corn on one side of the road is stunted and diseased. The farmer will not harvest a crop this year. On the other side of the road, the farmer gave up growing corn and erected a greenhouse, probably for growing a high-value crop like tomatoes. Though it's an expensive investment, agriculture consultants now recommend them. Just up the road, at a home run by Kenya Children of Hope, an organization that helps rehabilitate street children and reunite them with their families, one finds another failed corn crop and another greenhouse. The director, Charity, is frustrated because the two acres must feed the rescued children and earn money for the organization. After two tomato crops failed in the new greenhouse, her consultant recommended using a banned, toxic pesticide called carbofuran.
Will Obama's New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition help farmers like Charity? The New Alliance was announced in conjunction with the G8 meeting last Friday. Under the scheme, some 45 corporations, including Monsanto, Syngenta, Yara International, Cargill, DuPont, and PepsiCo, have pledged a total of $3.5 billion in investment in Africa. The full list of corporations and commitments has just been released, and one of the most notable is Yara International's promise to build a $2 billion fertilizer plant in Africa. Syngenta pledged to build a $1 billion business in Africa over the next decade. These promises are not charity; they are business.
This is par for the course for the attempted “second green revolution” that is currently underway. The Gates Foundation and its Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa are working to build up a network of private seed companies and private agro-dealers across Africa. The goal is to increase average fertilizer use in Africa by more than a factor of six and to decrease the distance each African farmer must travel to reach a shop selling seeds and inputs. Those who support this vision have heaped praise on Obama and the G8's New Alliance. In fact, with both Republican and Democratic support, this is one of the only things both parties agree on.
But what do actual Africans think? Not just the elite, but the peasant farmers? Charity, for her part, is frustrated. Most of Kenya's land is arid or semi-arid, making agriculture difficult if not impossible. But Ngong Hills receive adequate rainfall – or they did anyway. The climate crisis has changed the previously reliable rainfall patterns within Kenya and even a wet area like Ngong Hills is suffering. The stunted, diseased corn one sees there was planted from the “best” store-bought seed and ample chemical fertilizer was applied. The crop failure was not due to lack of inputs.
In another part of the country, about an hour from Nairobi, Samuel Nderitu points out more failed corn crops. Corn – or maize as Kenyans call it – has been the main staple since Kenya was colonized by the British. But the corn growing on the demonstration farm of Nderitu's NGO, Grow Biointensive Agricultural Center of Kenya (G-BIACK) is healthy and thriving. So are G-BIACK's other vegetable crops and fruit trees. Why will he harvest a successful crop when his next-door neighbor will not?
G-BIACK is an organic farming training center, and the crops there were grown with manure and compost instead of chemical fertilizer. G-BIACK also saves seeds instead of purchasing seeds from the store. The farmers in this region, near the city of Thika, farm tiny plots – as small as one-fifth of an acre and averaging one acre. Many use chemical fertilizer, but since it is expensive, they often fail to use enough. “Here, in Kenya, if you plant anything without chemical fertilizer, if you don't know anything about organic farming, it can't grow,” says Nderitu. But, as G-BIACK proves, those who do know how to farm organically achieve great success. G-BIACK was named the NGO of the Year in 2010 by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization and the Government of Kenya. And its next-door neighbor with the failed crop is now attending its trainings to learn organic farming.